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The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously today to take $4.3 billion from an $8 billion subsidy for telephone connections in hard-to-reach rural areas and put it into a new initiative to expand broadband Internet service to an estimated 18 million people. The long-discussed initiative is part of an effort to increase economic growth through increased access to broadband. Chairman Julius Genachowski said this program could create hundreds of thousands of jobs in rural areas.

Todd Shields of Bloomberg Businessweek reports that in the same vote, the FCC also lowered long-distance call rates. "Together the moves are designed to restructure support for rural companies and relieve pressure on the Universal Service Fund, a broader subsidy program that is financed through a charge on consumers’ long-distance calls," Shields writes. Large land-line companies, includingAT&T and Verizon, asked the FCC to allow existing carriers to receive broadband subsidies first, but the FCC said no and instead decided to let companies "levy a new charge on phone subscribers," Shieleds reports. Free Press political adviser Joel Kelsey told Shields that asking customers to pay more would not expand broadband adoption.

The deal appears based largely on a "brokered reform proposal made by large carriers and small telco associations," Joan Engebretson reports for Connected Planet. Many small companies have been raising warning flags about the deal; the Rural Telecom Associations NTCA, Opastco and the Western Telecommunications Alliance said in a press release that the wide-ranging order had "positive aspects" but they "remain concerned that parts of the current reform package will have substantial adverse impacts on rural consumers and the small, community-based carriers of last resort committed to serve them." For more, and other reactions, via Broadcasting & Cable's John Eggerton, click here.

Genachowski said the shift in subsidy money will help cut the number of people without broadband in half over the next five years. The new program will be called the "Connect America Fund" and will be capped at $4.5 billion. (Read more)

Written by Ivy Brashear

Snowy winter predicted;

Enjoy the warm weather now, because meteorologists are forecasting a snowy winter.

All signs indicate this winter will be a real "doozy," said Dr. David Ball, a meteorology professor at Ball State University,

"The long range forecast calls for near average temperatures with above average precipitation," Call said. "The large-scale setup of the atmosphere looks similar to last year. Given the winter of 2010-11 was one of the top 10 snowiest winters for Georgetown, I suggest being ready for another snowy winter."

Long-range forecasts are made using standard forecast techniques and are based upon computer model simulations, the professor said. The information obtained from these simulations is limited but accurate.

"They can tell us correctly that a winter will be a warm or cold one, wet or dry, but they don't tell us if a snowstorm will disrupt Christmas travel or if it will be absurdly cold one month even though the others are all warm," Call said. "Often the short term extremes such as record cold snaps and major snowstorms are most memorable and disruptive, and predicting these this far out is not possible."

Last year was the ninth snowiest winter on record with 27 inches based upon National Weather Service records. December (12.4 inches) and February (12.0 inches) were each ranked among the snowiest months ever for Georgetown and central Kentucky.

Snow does not always mean bitter cold temperatures.

"To get snow, cold temperatures, moisture and fronts all have to come together properly," he said. "Often something is missing. While most scenarios suggest a stormy winter, it's unclear if that would translate into many small snowfalls or a few big ones. We don't have the knowledge to predict winter storms more than about five days in advance."

The eastern United States, including Kentucky, has been experiencing some harsh winters lately, and that is being watched closely, McCall said.

"With global warming, the jet stream is weaker because the Poles are slightly warmer," Call said. "A new theory gaining acceptance is that the polar jet stream acts like a fence to keep the coldest wintertime air close to the North Pole. A weaker jet stream makes it easier for major cold outbreaks to sweep into the U.S.

"Ironically, this means that global warming could actually cause winters in Kentucky to be colder! In the past few winters the eastern U.S. has experienced major outbreaks of Arctic air and there have been strong winter storms too. Over the next few years scientists will closely watch winter patterns to see if this is a long term trend resulting from global warming or simply a shorter variation in climate."

So is there any good news?

"It is not clear when winter will begin this year, but our climate models suggest that conditions will warm rapidly once we get into March," he said. "So, it appears you might experience an early spring."

By Mike Scogin
Georgetown News-Graphic

Joshua TopolskyJoshua Topolsky
Joshua Topolsky
The Verge


Google wants your phone to make you a superhero, to make you more powerful and to make you smarter.

On top of all that, Google wants you to love your phone, too. Apparently, love is an emotion the company has found lacking when it comes to its Android line of smartphones.

I know what you’re thinking: How is it possible the public has failed to fall in love with devices called Droids? Devices that are advertised primarily in violent television spots that seem to indicate the phone is as likely to put you in a meat grinder as it is to help you find directions to the nearest deli?

According to the head of user experience for Android — a man named Matias Duarte — for people to love their devices, the company had to figure out what the “soul” of Android was. “I don’t think anybody ever asked about the soul,” he tells me. “This was my question. It was the question I challenged the team with.”

The answer to Duarte’s question — the romantically named Galaxy Nexus, which was built in partnership with Samsung — was revealed this week at an event in Hong Kong. Literally a huge slab of a device, the Galaxy Nexus comes with all the fixings: a nearly five-inch HD display, a fast dual-core processor and Verizon’s 4G LTE service. But what is the soul of the new machine? It’s a new, more lovable version of the Android operating system dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich.

Duarte says that his team studied the current crop of competitors — most notably Apple’s iPhone operating system iOS and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 — and found their visual ideas lacking. Apple’s iOS deals in the re-creation of real-world objects in almost cartoonish ways — the calendar with leather edges, for instance. Windows Phone 7, Duarte says, is stark and cold, like “airport lavatory signage.”

The new Ice Cream Sandwich software is an evolution of the tablet operating system the company announced in January nicknamed “Honeycomb.” But, Duarte says, “we wanted to do more than just bring Honeycomb to phones.”

So while the Honeycomb interface had a cold futurism to it, Google wanted to use the Web as a basis for design in Ice Cream Sandwich — meaning the company needed to find a consistent language and layout, but not stay lassoed to a particular style. The Galaxy Nexus’s interface is still plenty futuristic, but it eschews the familiarity of Apple’s cartoonish icons, the flatness of Microsoft’s OS and the hard lines of Honeycomb. It’s friendly without being exaggerated, modern without feeling overly synthetic.

In Duarte’s words, the company “pumped up the snooty design quotient” and “toned down the geeky nerd quotient.”

For a company known for data rather than design, Ice Cream Sandwich is a big step in the right direction. While Apple has known all along that the experience and feel of a device can be more important than its abilities or specifications like memory capacity or weight, Google is just starting to play catch-up in the world of aesthetics.

But what about your phone making you feel like a superhero? There are tricks for that, too.

The phone can now unlock itself just by seeing you using facial recognition. It can take nearly instant dictation for
e-mails, messages and more. It can take photos with zero shutter lag (meaning you never have to wait for the picture to save to keep snapping). It can “beam” files back and forth to other Galaxy Nexuses just by tapping the two devices together — a neat trick made possible through the use of NFC (near-field communication) technology. The phone can even tell you when you’re using too much data on your plan — and cut you off if you want it to.

Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich also includes a new “People” application, which is meant to help you stay more connected to friends and family.

I’ve seen and used the device, and I can say that it really is a big change for the Android that most people know. Not only is the Galaxy Nexus a serious competitor to the best-in-breed iPhone 4S, but in many ways, it feels like Google is purposefully attacking the hard, masculine branding of its devices that Verizon has been keen to push in its advertising and partners such as Motorola have heartily embraced.

Instead, Google seems to be saying these aren’t just devices for the bleeding edge, but for the center. It’s an ironic statement for Google to make, since it currently has a larger market share in smartphones than any of the other players in the game.

When I talked to Duarte about his vision for this new device, he told me that long ago he’d decided that smartphones weren’t for a certain kind of person. “They were for everyone,” he says. “Smartphones were the way phones were supposed to be.”

With Ice Cream Sandwich and the Galaxy Nexus, it looks like Google is starting to believe that, too.

Joshua Topolsky is the founding editor in chief of The Verge, a technology news Web site debuting this fall, and former editor in chief of Engadget.

Steve Jobs revealed some vague future plans for Apple before he passed away from pancreatic cancer earlier this month. Including a possible Apple television set. Which is a nice idea but something that still feels like it’ll be years away.

Apple TV

The Apple TV set-top box has never been more than a hobby for Apple, with Steve Jobs admitting as much a few years ago. However, it’s always been clear that Jobs and co. had bigger plans for the device and was merely waiting for the industry, technology, and consumers to catch up.

We now have some proof of this, with Steve Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson revealing Jobs’ thoughts on the future of the product. Forget a small set-top box, we’re talking about a true Apple television set here. Which would no doubt be white, have rounded edges, and be called iTV.

Steve Jobs’ Dream

The Steve Jobs biography was written from insights forged from multiple interviews both with the man himself and his friends, family, and colleagues. Elements of the book have been leaking this week, with the Washington Post finding the section on the possible Apple TV set.

In the biography Isaacson writes:

“He [Jobs] very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant. ‘I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.’ No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. ‘It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.’”

An Apple television set has been rumored for some time. It seems an obvious next step for a company that can change industries and ways of thinking with the release of new hardware. But this is the first evidence that such a device could be in the making.


While the set-up of any Apple television set is still unclear, I can only imagine it will be built on the groundwork of Apple TV. But that means Apple still needs the cooperation of the content owners and creators for the product to have any chance of succeeding. And judging by Google TV that could be a long way off yet.

Congratulations to Conor White-Sullivan and the team at Localocracy, which became a recent acquisition of the Huffington Post, as reported by Kara Swisher on WSJ's AllThingsD. Arianna Huffington said, "[Conor and team are] pioneers in using the web to empower citizens to improve their towns, and their unique vision and talents will enable us to deepen our users' engagement with our sites."


This is further evidence of the "neighbor connect" online space heating up. In the past year, I'm aware of at least two dozen significant startups focused on facilitating conversation among people who live near each other. Some, like Localocracy, aim at niches (local ballot issues and related), while others intend to promote a general sense of community.



Huffington Post/AOL joins, which acquired last year, in this space, as well as many other new VC-backed and boot-strapped entrants. Most startups in this area appear to be strong on tech and weak on traction. That is, they can crank out the code, but few people actually show up and use their product. To make matters worse, many attempt to open up everywhere all at once. As a friend said, "A mile wide and an inch deep."

Front Porch Forum is an established leader in this space, with amazing traction in our state, Vermont. More than half of our primary city participates. In another FPF town, 75 percent of members post -- much higher than the 1-10 percent seen on many social sites. And the member success stories flow through FPF faster than we can write them down. People use FPF to reduce crime, find jobs, give away baby gear, reunite with lost pets, recommend roofers, debate ballot measures, call city hall on the carpet, and much more.

With our new web application recently launched, we look forward to bringing Front Porch Forum to communities far and wide.

A version of this story first appeared on the Front Porch Forum blog.